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What Is Gender Identity? Definitions, Examples, and Insights

by | Dec 18, 2020 | SEXUALITY

This is a picture of a whiteboard, with text that reads, "What is your gender identity?"

Have you ever thought about gender identity

If you’re not familiar with the term, gender identity is an innate feeling inside of people that allows them to define and understand who they are — male, female, both, neither, or anywhere else on the vast spectrum.

In recent years, gender has become a more widely discussed topic. This is especially true with the increased use of appropriate gender pronouns, and because the internet has provided an easy way to spread this knowledge and information.

This is a wonderful improvement for those who have been seeking validation and representation — as well as those who previously couldn’t find language for their identities.

However, there’s very little mainstream education about sex and gender, which is why many people still have questions and confusions.

Read on to learn more about the important question — what is gender identity?

Is Gender Identity the Same as Sex?

The short answer is no, gender and sex are inherently different (and sex doesn’t mean sexual orientation!).

The experience of gender is a person’s inner understanding of themselves, whereas sex is a scientific and biological categorization based on one’s body.

In other words, while babies are assigned a sex at birth (male or female), that is not a baby’s gender. Babies are too young to understand and articulate that part of themselves — and each individual is the only one who can decide their identity.

Along those lines, a person’s gender isn’t necessarily the same as the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, even if a child is categorized as female at birth, that doesn’t mean that their gender will match that.

Gender is not something that can be based purely on one’s body and chromosomes, like sex is; rather, each individual person has agency over their identity.

What’s the Difference Between Gender Roles and Gender Identity?

Gender roles are a social construction, based on the social and cultural expectations that dictate how people “should” behave and express themselves in the world, depending on whether they’re masculine or feminine.

Though gender roles have been in place for centuries, they actually can be very harmful. They typically keep biological men and biological women polarized, both in experience and power.

In addition, these limiting gender roles don’t always correspond to one’s desired experience — particularly if the roles you’re expected to fulfill don’t align with your gender.

As such, it’s important that gender identity be made a focal point, instead of gender roles. This is the case because gender is purely related to how an individual feels inside of them — not about preconceived expectations. 

Each individual has the freedom to express themselves in the ways that make them (not society!) feel happy and fulfilled.

Why Does Gender Identity Matter?

Many people believe that gender identity matters because it allows a person to be categorized and understood by society (i.e. fit into typical gender roles).

However, the reason that it matters is actually because gender identity and sexual orientation are for each individual to understand, describe, and validate themselves.

This is especially necessary for transgender people, whose gender does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. This is in contrast with cisgender people, whose gender does match their sex assigned at birth.)

If the concept of gender — and the language and discussions surrounding it — did not exist, then people who identify as trans might not be given an opportunity to articulate their gender and pursue their authentic selves.

What Is Gender Dysphoria?

You might have heard of the term gender dysphoria. It’s a feeling of deep discomfort that a person can experience as a result of their gender differing from their sex assigned at birth.

For example, someone who was assigned female at birth may later realize that their gender is more masculine. If so, having breasts and being treated as a woman might cause the person to feel gender dysphoria.

This is often felt by transgender people — though it’s important to recognize that some people who identify as transgender don’t feel gender dysphoria, and that’s completely valid.

(A previous term for gender dysphoria is Gender Identity Disorder, though professionals have shifted away from this term, along with the idea that experiencing dysphoria is a mental disorder.)

How Do You Figure Out Your Gender Identity?

Some people understand their identities right away, and might feel either a connection to or deep discomfort with their sex assigned at birth.

However, others struggle with discovering or accepting their identities. They might also struggle with their mental health, due to gender dysphoria, challenges within medical environments, or unaccepting families and peers. 

One trick to discovering your gender is to look through a list of gender terms and their definitions. You might recognize a connection to certain words over others. In this case (though not all the time), that is a label that fits your identity.

Conversely, if you feel you’re not able to articulate your gender identity with language, that is completely normal. The labels and terms surrounding gender are constantly changing and evolving. Language isn’t always a perfect match. But, gender neutral pronouns can be an effective solution.

Some people choose not to label their identities, while others choose to use multiple labels or umbrella terms (such as genderqueer, which can mean any non-binary gender).

In the end, your identity and labels are completely up to you.

What Now?

If you’re reading this, you might be questioning your gender — or, you’re just curious to learn more!

Either way, you can always turn to resources like this to get a better understanding of what is gender identity.

And, if you’re looking to delve into your own identity, individual therapy can help you gain that deeper understanding.


Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.


Author Bio

Zoe Stoller

Zoe Stoller (she/they) is a professional writer and digital marketer based in Philadelphia. She is passionate about sharing education and motivation about the LGBTQ+ and mental health communities, and her goal is to inspire others to be their fullest, most authentic selves. She is a recent Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and in her spare time, she loves to read and write poetry.
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